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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and Cambridge

After talking to many teachers, some of which have been teaching in Spain for many years, I realize many are not used to the CEFR.

Some veterans, those who have taught here in Madrid for more than 5 years, have always used the “Starter, Preliminary, Lower-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate and Advanced” levels.

Some are only used to the Cambridge Exam levels (Key, Pet, FCE, CAE and Proficiency). We will talk about the importance of the Cambridge syllabus for Spaniards another day.

And others, specially those who have recently done a TEFL course, are just used to the CEFR levels which are the standard lately in language teaching in Europe.
CEFR stands for  Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and it describes a person’s language ability in 6 levels. These levels are A1, A2, B1,B2, C1 and C2 and, as they are standard in languages across Europe, it allows us to compare and understand qualifications internationally.

These are the levels and their explanation:

Level group Level group name Level Level name Description
A Basic user A1 Breakthrough or beginner
  • Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
  • Can introduce themselves and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people they know and things they have.
  • Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
A2 Waystage or elementary
  • Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
  • Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
  • Can describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
B Independent user B1 Threshold or intermediate
  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
B2 Vantage or upper intermediate
  • Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization.
  • Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
C Proficient user C1 Effective operational proficiency or advanced
  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
C2 Mastery or proficiency
  • Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
  • Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
  • Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

A common question from teachers is: how do these CEFR levels relate to Cambridge exams?. Here is a chart which will help you compare these two frameworks. I have it at the entrance of our academy for easy access to all teachers and students.

In following articles we will describe some of these exams, and others students in Madrid might as you to prepare them for.

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